The Delhi high court did on Thursday, to a 71-year-old man who spent 20 days in a mental health hospital last year on the orders of a judge hearing his compensation case because he had lost his temper over the slow pace of the hearing.
“This court expresses its apology to Ram Kumar and his family members, including Ravinder (the petitioner), for the unlawful orders passed by the magistrate,” a bench of Justices S Muralidhar and I S Mehta observed, adding that Kumar, “a heart patient, was subject to tremendous stress on account of his illegal confinement at IHBAS. In short, there was a cascade of violations that had a domino effect on Kumar, denuding him of his rights to life, liberty, dignity and privacy.”
Taking a grim view of recurring instances of persons being taken illegally to mental health hospitals, the HC ordered the legal services authority to “conduct a survey of mental health institutions and facilities in Delhi to ascertain how many inmates are being illegally held, in violation of the Mental Healthcare Act and the Constitution of India”.
Last year, the court had quashed the magistrate’s order after Kumar’s distraught family filed a writ questioning his forcible confinement at the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS).
In its final verdict the HC ordered the Delhi government to compensate Kumar for his “illegal detention” at the IHBAS in November last year. The court was appalled that Kumar’s family was not even informed that the 71-year-old had been sent to a hospital for a mental check-up, because he vented his frustration in court over the slow pace of hearings.
The HC also ordered the Medical Council of India to take note of the actions of IHBAS doctors who forcibly kept Kumar with them on the basis of illegal court orders and directed the Delhi Judicial Academy to regularly train judges, police officers and doctors in the mental health laws of the country.
“The genesis of the problem that Kumar faced was the case before the MACT (Motor Accident Claims Tribunal) which he was defending as party in person. The 10-year wait had obviously tested his limits. Litigation fatigue had set in. Every day’s wait for a litigant who has had to spend a decade defending a case is bound to aggravate his litigation neurosis,” the bench observed.
It said the “annoyance caused to the presiding judge of the MACT was not unexpected” in light of the fact that the judicial system is overburdened but it took exception to the illegal order mandating a mental check-up.
“Judges, too, are human. Most of them are overworked. Their patience gets tested often, particularly by litigants in person who, in the process of navigating the legal maze on their own, disrupt the orderly functioning of the court. However, being part of an imperfect judicial system, a judge must be prepared for an outburst every now and then from a disgruntled user of the system,” the bench observed.
It said the Contempt of Courts Act is available to judges when faced with unruly litigants but “to get the police to take such person into custody and take him away for medical examination, without any order to that effect, is not an option available in law.”
On the conduct of the doctors, the HC noted: “IHBAS allowed the illegality of the detention of Kumar to continue. In examining him to determine if he was in need of care and treatment for any mental illness as an in-patient, the best interests principle was not followed by the doctors at IHBAS.”
The court fixed a six-month time frame for the MACT court to decide Kumar’s case.